This is the fourth and last post in a short series in dealing with stress in youth ministry. We’ve been talking about the stress that is youth ministry and why youth ministry may even be extra stressful compared to other jobs. In the last post we’ve discussed how you can acknowledge, recognize and identify the stress in your life and youth ministry. This brings us to the fourth step: preventing stress.
Let me start with the bad news: you’ll never completely eliminate stress from your youth ministry job, whether you’re a volunteer or on staff. Working in a church, working with people and especially young people will always result in some amount of stress. But there are things you can do to keep the stress level acceptable and healthy.
Step 4: Healthy stress management
Stress management is often explained in the ‘four A’s’:
Let’s look at what this means.
If you know what’s causing you stress, a good option can be to simply avoid it. Can you find someone to take over certain tasks and responsibilities that cause you stress? This may not always be an option, but it’s something to look at.
Also, learn to say no to things that you know will stress you out. And if there are people on your team that cause a lot of stress, discuss this with someone you can trust. Are you the only one who feels this way? If not, are these ‘toxic people’ in the right place in your youth ministry or do they need to be asked to leave? If you are the only one, what red buttons are they pushing and how can you avoid this?
In the last post, I talked about how major leadership conflict was causing me stress in a church I worked in. My solution was to avoid it by working from home rather than from the church office. I asked the board of elders for permissions, explained why and they understood completely. It helped me to do my job and removed a major stressor for me.
If you can’t avoid the stressor, try altering it. This means getting to the root of what’s causing you stress and try to change the situation. If certain people are causing you stress, try communicating this to them. If certain tasks are a stressor, identify ways to reduce the stress, find coping strategies.
I’ve found that I often have a somewhat fatalistic view on certain situations, a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. If you except to get stress, you’ll probably have it. Instead of working from that expectation, try to come up with ways to avoid the stress.
For a while there were some people on my team that really caused me stress. Fr several reasons, asking them to leave wasn’t an option. So I had to come up with another way of dealing with it and in the end, I asked another leader to take over certain parts of the leader meetings so we could co-lead. This gave me the opportunity to reduce the stress by sharing it.
A third strategy is to adapt yourself to what’s causing you stress. This isn’t easy because it often requires you to change your way of thinking. It’s about seeing challenges and opportunities, rather than problems. It’s about taking a step beg and seeing the bigger picture instead of just what’s not working. It’s about changing your standards to that they become more reasonable. Perfectionism is a major cause for stress and don’t I know it.
I’m lucky in this area because I’m married to a man who excels at adapting. He’s very analytical and tends to think in terms of possibilities rather than setbacks. He has often helped me to reframe my thinking and thus reduce my stress levels. Find someone like that to talk to, to help you adapt.
We must in the end accept the things we cannot change. A certain amount of stress will always be there in youth ministry, but if we can manage the stress we can avoid, we can accept the stress we can’t prevent.
I have no idea who first came up with this, but there’s a well-known saying that says that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. This is so true for youth ministry as well. There will always be emergencies, changes of plans, teens and parents and leaders who cause stress. We can’t always prevent that but we can control how we respond.
Aside from these four ways to deal with the stressor itself, there’s something else that’s important. You don’t just need to know what’s causing you stress, you also need to find out what relieves it, what fills up your tank again when it’s empty. For me, reading fiction helps and so does being alone. I can deal with a lot if I can have an hour of quiet solitude for myself. For my husband, it’s exercising. He needs to get his hour of exercise in every other day, it’s what helps him get rid of the stress in his body and mind.
For you it may be walking or listening to music or watching TV or playing with your kids. Find out what makes you relax and reload and make sure to make time for this. Do that in combination with a healthy lifestyle both physically and spiritually (can anyone say Sabbath?) and you can be sure the stress won’t get you.
What strategy do you need to use for the stressors in your life and youth ministry? Have you discovered what helps you relieve the stress yet?